Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Impersonator – A Mystery

ImpersonatorWho doesn’t love a tale of secret identities, impersonators of kings or heiresses, or body-doubles.  Mary Miley in her “First Crime Novel” award winning story, The Impersonator, gives us just that.  It is the tale of a down-and-out vaudeville actress who is approached by an unscrupulous uncle to take on the identity of his niece, the heiress Jessie Carr, who mysteriously disappeared seven years ago.  If actress Leah Randall can convince Jessie Carr’s family that it is she, Jessie, who has returned, she stands to inherit a fortune on her upcoming twenty-first birthday.  Leah/Jessie wins over the family–all but cousin Henry–who is the one who knows Jessie’s true fate.  The tale is told through Leah’s eyes as she likens the challenge to the greatest acting role of her life, but with life-and-death stakes if she fails.  The backdrop of events is early 1920’s Oregon in a world of Prohibition, bootleggers, jazz age costumes, and larger than life stars of vaudeville.  It’s a good tale despite seeing some of the twists and turns coming down the road beforehand, and will keep a reader engaged to the end in order to see if Leah/Jessie pulls it off.  The narrative voice of Leah is fun, if somewhat unbelievable.  The story sometimes drags a bit when the author puts all she’s learned about the era into the mouth of a character for a long exposition on a topic, but it is forgivable.  Miley has done her homework on the vaudeville era of the early ’20’s (but I did catch a few phrases that were not likely used at that time.)  The ending is very dramatic (no spoilers) and reads more like a romantic thriller perhaps, than a murder mystery.  Miley has followed up with a second novel out this year which continues this character’s story called “Silent Murders,” focusing on the silent movie era.

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Cuckoo’s Calling Character- Not Plot-driven Mystery

cuckooRobert Galbraith’s (aka J. K. Rowlings) mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling opens with the apparent suicide of a troubled super-model who falls to her death from her posh apartment balcony.  Only her half-brother believes it was not suicide and hires down-on-his luck private detective Cormoran Strike to investigate.  Cormoran has no shortage of troubles of his own–just tossed out of his home by his fiancé, his business failing and in debt, and health in crisis, he takes on the case not quite believing it wasn’t indeed a suicide.  He soon starts to have his doubts.  Cormoran’s investigation is aided by a “temp agency” gal who shows up and stays long after her contract, drawn by the excitement of the detective work and maybe just a bit by Cormoran himself.  The novel’s plot is very slow and consists mostly of the investigator interviewing various family members and friends in an attempt to piece together the model’s last day alive before her death.  It is full of wonderful prose and vivid descriptions from  the worlds of high-fashion to that of drug rehab programs.  Galbraith has a talent for painting a vivid picture of these people (most of whom were quite unlikeable) and surroundings, for example, she described the mouth of a wrinkled, aged woman sucking on a cigarette to the anus of a cat.  Try to forget that image.  For what it lacks in compelling plot twists it makes up for in interesting heros.  Cormoran Strike, the bastard son of an aging rock star, Iraq war veteran, amputee, and large hairy man comes to life as a sympathetic and believable character.  His temp gal, Robin Ellacott, plays well off his character and we soon suspect that she is attracted to the big lug (even though she’s engaged), which lends the novel a bit of romantic tension.  After all, who wouldn’t fall for a homeless, one-legged, big hairy failure of a private eye?  Galbraith makes it work.  All in all I would say that I finished the impressive 456 pages of the story not so much for the solution to the mystery, but just to see how Cormoran makes out.

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We Were Liars

LiarsThe newest YA novel by E. Lockhart, We Were Liars, follows the narrative of a young girl, Cadence Sinclair Eastman, from a privileged family who spends every summer on a private island off of Massachusetts with her cousins and one very special boy.  The summer of her fifteenth year something terrible happens which leaves her with memory loss, debilitating headaches, and the urge to give away all her possessions.  Returning to the island for a brief stay two years later, she tries to uncover what happened. (None of the family members will talk about it.)  Through her scattered and unreliable recollections, we piece together the image of a highly dysfunctional family torn apart by greed, prejudice, jealousy. The perfect veneer of the powerful Sinclair family is ripped away to reveal their true poverty of spirit, Cadence included.  The horrible accident which occurred the fifteenth year is the culmination of Cadence’s attempt to right her perception of the wrongs.  The author, Lockhart, does an interesting job using the voice of her main character in an almost poetic narrative prose to describe the people and events.  She does an outstanding job giving us glimpses and hints as to the character of the adults in the book, whereas the portrayal of the teenaged friends/cousins is less subtle.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it feels too forced and precocious for the voice of the young teen.  Overall, the book was very readable, the story engaging (although I did figure out the twist miles before the big reveal), but I would say the ending is unsatisfactory.  It goes out with a little puff after such emotional fireworks that precedes it.

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The Goldfinch

Can’t. Finish. Book.  Got through part one, but cannot force myself to delve on.  Anyone else having this problem? This is a prize winning novel—a major prize–and I can’t stand it.  Do I have to give up my claim to being literate?  It is dull (even when describing a terrorist attack), the characters are not engaging, and I don’t really care what happens to them at this point.  The novel is so highly regarded, I feel like a failure.  I hear it gets better, but dear God, so many pages to slog through before hope of something interesting.  Great prose, no quibble there (with some minor “too much of a good thing” exceptions) but I’m not getting a good feeling for where this story is going.  Can you imagine if a debut novelist submitted this to an agent?  Ripped to shreds. The most interesting thing about the novel is the fact that the painting described in it really exists.

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